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New Internet Law Muzzles Free Expression in The Gambia

Gambian dictator Yahya Jammeh (Photo: IISD)

Gambian dictator Yahya Jammeh (Photo: IISD)

Critics are claiming an amendment to a Gambian Internet law will stifle free expression in the tiny West African dictatorship.

Pambazuka News reports Gambian lawmakers recently approved an amendment to the Information and Communications Act of 2009 which criminalizes use of the Internet for purposes of “spreading false news” about government or other public officials.

The international human rights group Frontline Defenders reported that it is also a criminal offense to use the Internet to:

Incite dissatisfaction or instigate violence against the government or public officials; or caricature, abuse or make derogatory statements against the person or character of public officials.

Individuals convicted of violating this law face prison terms of up to 15 years, as well as a fine of up to 3 million dalasi ($82,200).

Information Minister Nana Grey-Johnston told parliament that the bill “seeks to provide for the deterrent punishment of such persons who are engaged in such treacherous campaigns against The Gambia both internally and outside The Gambia.”

But human rights groups and free speech advocates are concerned that the measure will have a chilling effect on free expression.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, as well as the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, have both expressed their concerns that laws banning the spreading of ‘false news’ threaten freedom of expression.

The Gambia, which has been ruled by Yahya Jammeh since the army lieutenant was installed in a bloodless coup in 1994, has been called a ‘dictatorship’ by many international observers. According to Amnesty International, arbitrary arrest and detention, repression of dissent and free expression, disappearances, horrific prison conditions and capital punishment are all problems in the tiny nation of 1.8 million.

President Jammeh once declared in a live television address:

“I will kill anyone who wants to destabilize this country. If you think you can collaborate with so-called human rights defenders and get away with it, you must be living in a dream world. I will kill you, and nothing will come out of it.”

Among Jammeh’s more ludicrous claims was that he invented an herbal cure for AIDS in 2007. According to CBS News, Jammeh then kicked a UN representative out of the country after she cast doubt on the strongman’s dubious ‘cure.’

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